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Latest Round in the Elgin Marbles Battle: Greeks Reject British Offer

A 2008 mock-up of copies (left) of the Parthenon Marbles in the New Acropolis Museum

It’s another skirmish in the Elgin Marble Wars, this coming almost a week before the June 20 opening of the New Acropolis Museum in Athens.

On Wednesday, British Museum spokeswoman Hannah Boulton reiterated on Greek Skai Radio an offer previously made by the museum’s director, Neil MacGregor.

Agence France Presse reports

The museum could consider loaning the Marbles to Greece for three months. But Greece would have to recognise the museum’s ownership rights to the sculptures, she [Boulton] said.

The Greeks have previously expressed willingness to disregard the
question of who owns what, so long as the British dispatched their
portion for longterm display. Presumably a three-month loan doesn’t qualify. It’s also a ridiculously short stint, given the enormous cost and logistical challenges of such a monumental art-transport undertaking.

The new Greek culture minister, Antonis Samaras, appears to be taking a harder line than those who had said that the issue of legal ownership was less important than the marbles’ presence in Athens. Samaras issued this statement in response to the latest British offer:

The government, as any other Greek government would have done in its
place, is obliged to turn down the offer. This is because accepting it would legalise the snatching of the
Marbles and the monument’s carving-up 207 years ago.

Hard feelings aside, the British Museum has accepted an invitation to send a representative to the opening of the Bernard Tschumi-designed museum, where the top floor will display the Greek-owned Parthenon Marbles, leaving gaps where the London-based marbles belong in the frieze.

CultureGrrl will not be attending the opening. I did receive a save-the-date but no invitation followed. I posted a photo essay on the then-unfinished museum in March 2008, when I was an invited speaker at an international cultural property conference held there.

Here’s what I then wrote about the installation plans for the marbles, which involved installing fake plaster replicas of the missing marbles in sequence with the authentic Athens-owned slabs:

The planners of the New Acropolis Museum had a brilliant idea for display of the Parthenon Marbles [leaving gaps for the missing marbles]. Then they improved upon it [installing replicas of the missing marbles, veiled with scrims]. Now they’ve ruined it.

I don’t know if they’ve rethought this, nor do I know whether the New Acropolis Museum at last has a director. Last time I asked, less than three months ago, I was told that the news of the director would be published on the museum’s website at the time of the appointment. The museum’s news page has not, at this writing, been updated since February.

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